In 1959 Dick
Stuart, the Pittsburgh Pirates' nonconformist first baseman, returned from the
Dominican Republic-Winter League and described to Pirate brass an elderly
left-handed pitcher he had seen there. "I told them I'd been hitting
against this guy for three years down there and I got two hits off him,"
says Stuart. "I told them, 'Sign this guy!' But you know how it is with me.
Anything Stuart says around here, they say forget it."
Not until a year
later, after a Pirate scout saw Stuart's man pitching in Poza Rica, Mexico, did
the club sign him, and not until this season did he win a Pirate uniform. Today
he is anywhere between 42 and 55 years old and is, as of this moment, the
National League's leading candidate for Rookie of the Year. Barrel-chested
Diomedes Antonio Olivo has made the grade, all right, and is playing the game
with the exuberance of a kid. "Like big league?" he replies to a
pronounces his name Die-omedess, is an old dairy farmer from the Dominican
Republic and for nobody knows how many years has been pitching baseball and
softball—yes, soft-ball—in Latin America. He smiles irrepressibly at box-seat
fans and enemy players but can speak almost no English. Opposing hitters, for
their part, would like to know what language he is pitching in. When earned run
averages were tallied up last weekend Diomedes Olivo's stood at 1.98. Three
weeks ago he pitched in eight of the nine games Pittsburgh played.
guy is older than Satchel Paige," says Johnny Logan, the Pirate utility
infielder, who has been in the major leagues for 11 years. Logan belonged to
Evansville of the Three-I League when he first met Diomedes. "I played with
him in the Puerto Rican Winter League in 1947," says Logan, "and he was
a veteran then." When asked his age, Diomedes arches his eyebrows, crinkles
his nose, tosses his head and says, "Ooooh, 43." Few believe him.
Standing 6 feet 1
and weighing 197 pounds, Diomedes has high cheekbones and an instant grin.
Entering the clubhouse, he beams at his locker. He then beams at teammates
sitting glumly in their undershorts and garters. He beams at clubhouse
attendant Bo Hallahan. Of Hallahan, Olivo makes only one request—chewing gum.
Diomedes does not know the word gum; he just beams at Hallahan and says,
Of Trainer Danny
Whelan he asks no rubdowns, no pills, no tonics for his old bones. "He just
wants a little liniment if it's a cold day," says Whelan. "I'll tell
you—that guy would like to play in a triple-header. He'd pitch the first two
games and play outfield in the third. When he doesn't get into a game he gets
from the bullpen Diomedes does not trudge to the mound: head down, he marches
forward in long, vigorous strides, as if to the roll of drums. Shortstop Dick
Groat, who tries to be helpful to oncoming rookie pitchers, says:
"All he wants
to know is, 'How many out? What is name of batter?' "
After blazing a
sidearm fast ball past the batter, Diomedes celebrates riotously, pounding his
glove and stomping around the pitcher's mound in a quick circle. No sooner has
the batter looked up than Diomedes is swooping down on him again with his next
pitch. "That old man works so fast," says one Pirate official,
"that he had Pinson and Robinson and the rest of those Reds batting from
immense pride in his ability to swing a bat, having failed to learn,
apparently, that pitchers aren't supposed to know how. "Murtaugh pulled him
for a hitter in Cincinnati," remarks Pirate Pitcher Bob Friend, "and he
was mad. He said, "I hit, Manager. I pull ball to right.' "